There were two very important things that mattered on this day, April the 20th in the year 2023. One was off the field, one was on the field and there was the real possibility of the first thing’s impact bleeding into the second based on when news came out.
Three hours before kickoff in Lisbon, Juventus got a big win.
Five hours later, they got another big win to make it a pretty good Thursday.
Adrien Rabiot’s 11th goal (!!!) in all competitions turned out to be the one that gave Juventus an early lead and proved to be the difference in the Europa League quarterfinals as Max Allegri’s squad held on for a 1-1 draw on the night and a 2-1 win over the two-legged tie against Sporting. It provided the very large cherry on top — or maybe a second helping of glorious cake? — on a day in which Juventus saw its appeal of the 15-point penalty successful as they jumped back into third place in Serie A just like that.
That first part is reason to be happy enough.
Then Juve go out and advance to the Europa League semifinals just a few hours later?
Ah, what a day. What a very satisfying day in which a lot of stuff could have gone wrong but ended up falling Juve’s way in more way than one.
It was far from a perfect performance and that meant for some very nervy moments all the way across the 95 or so minutes that were played. But I think the most reassuring thing was that Juve never looked like they were totally out of their depth or in total danger of losing their lead. It wasn’t like the round of 16 against Freiburg where they could basically ease their way into the next round because of a red card. It was 11-v-11 the entire way, and for this very fact it was never going to be easy — especially since Sporting was basically on top of the ball for the majority of the time in the second half.
And while there were a couple of scares in there, there’s also this simple fact: Wojciech Szczesny, who had to come off due to shortness of breath in the first leg last week, was forced into all of two saves — and it’s not like either of them were all too challenging.
For as talented of a team Sporting is, finishing can very much be an issue. That was the case against Juventus on Thursday night just in the same kind of way it was in the first leg.
Who really knows how much the reversal of the 15-point penalty played into the performance. But I think the most important thing for me when it came to how Juve played was that they didn’t have a potential downward spiral right before the half after Sporting tied things up on the night. It could have gotten bad and had that stadium absolutely rocking if Juventus had allowed Sporting to take a 2-1 lead and tie things up on aggregate. The Portuguese side was certainly pushing for it and was really trying to turn things into chaos mode before the half arrived, but that never happened.
Hell, a second goal from Sporting never happened.
Juventus walked that tightrope in which we’ve seen them try to do so many times this season. In previous iterations, it’s been to mixed results. But on this night, when they needed to avoid disaster — translation: allow Sporting to tie it up on aggregate — they did just that. We haven’t been able to say that about Juventus a ton this season no matter how often Allegri tries to get wins in this kind of fashion.
Juve tried to hang on for dear life in the final 15-20 minutes.
They did just that — probably much to the surprise of many knowing that Juve’s best defender, Bremer, had to come off with a potential injury in the process.
And they get to enjoy the reward of that successful walking of the Allegri tightrope.
Now, all of the sudden, we turn our attention toward Juve securing a top four spot and what could be a spot in the Europa League final if they get past Europa League specialists Sevilla, who embarrassed Manchester United in Seville. What a change of tune from just a few days ago — and a change for the better, too.
RANDOM THOUGHTS AND OBSERVATIONS
- Ahhhhhhhhh what a good day.
- This is the kind of day in which you sit back and have a nice glass of wine or two. Or whatever your drink of choice is. Just lean back and soak it in because today was a good day, my friends.
- The Europa League dream lives on! Our boy Sergio has been trying to talk this very thing into existence the last few years on the podcast, and now it’s close to happening.
- I still can’t believe Rabiot has scored that many goals this season. Veronique must be ready to cash in somewhere. If it ain’t Juventus then it will be somewhere in the Premier League because they love a good overpay there. (So does Juventus in recent years, but I don’t wanna open that can of worms.)
- Federico Gatti came on midway through the second half and then proceeded to blast every single thing he saw come his way out of sight.
- Unfortunately, that also involved accidentally whacking the throat of a Sporting player as he tried an audacious shot on goal off a free kick. Gatti is the definition of “all gas, no breaks” when he plays and, you know, sometimes he’s going to do wild stuff.
- Federico Chiesa started the night with giving us a scare as he took an early knock to his ankle (?) and then wasn’t moving all that well the next 5-10 minutes. Chiesa ended up playing nearly 80 minutes — which, simply because of what this season has been like for him personally, has to be a nice development even though it wasn’t the best performance for him on the whole.
- There were a couple moments in the second half as Juve dropped deeper and deeper that saw Chiesa turn the ball over, get up and then press the hell out of the ball in frustration and then nearly win it back and turn it into a counterattack. You gotta love the guy.
- Still don’t like Chiesa playing as a quasi-wingback, though. We need to do something about that, Max.
- Alex Sandro had eight (!!!) clearances against Sporting. EIGHT!
- Alex Sandro also had five tackles! FIVE!
- Alex Sandro also debuted a slick goatee at the pre-match press conference. Stylish.
- Danilo had seven (!!!) clearances against Sporting. SEVEN!
- Gatti had four clearances against Sporting and he only played about 25 minutes.
- Allegri’s subs were Arek Milik, Paul Pogba, Filip Kostic and Federico Gatti. It’s nice to have a healthy squad again, isn’t it?
- Dusan Vlahhovic got a decent amount of gruff on the Twitter machine because of the first of two second-half scoring chances didn’t end up in a header being put on a frame. I’ll cut the guy a little bit of slack considering how he had to totally readjust his body and wrench his neck in a not so simple way to even get in contact with the ball.
- All that being said, Vlahovic finished with 20 touches. TWENTY! You gotta feel for him at this point because that’s just so far off from how things were for him before he signed with Juve.
- Adrien Rabiot has 11 goals in all competitions. Just felt like reminding you all of that.
- Some of the interplay between Angel Di Maria and Juan Cuadrado on second-half counterattacks sure was nifty.
- Fabio Miretti was tied for the team lead in key passes. I’d say that’s a positive development.
- It took until second-half stoppage time for Marcus Edwards to be booked for simulation. That’s funny because it could have happened on a couple of occasions much, much earlier in the second half. Just saying!
- A draw that feels like a win — when was the last time we felt that kind of way? Been a while.
- A potential all-Italian Europa League final? Well, sign me up for that, my dudes.